Our journey in creating inclusive outdoor experiences

by Bree Arnott

A partnership with Sport New Zealand | Ihi Aotearoa and the Halberg Foundation has helped us to remove barriers for disabled tamariki and rangatahi to experience outdoor recreation at Whenua Iti Outdoors.

Hearing that tamariki and rangatahi in our rohe (region) are missing out on experiences with us always sparks a desire to find a solution.

‘One of our key goals is to remove barriers to access, whether that’s cost, transport or cultural inclusion. But we saw that there were still barriers, both physical and perceived, for the disability community. That was what sparked this project.’ – Nettie Stow, Partnership and Funding Manager at Whenua Iti Outdoors

YouTube video

Initially we identified that we would need to upskill our instructors and improve our facilities, adapt equipment, and appropriately communicate at all points of contact with our organisation to better cater to the needs of the disabled community. But we were going to need help. Both in the form of financial assistance and practical training from people with the relevant knowledge and experience. The first opportunity came from our partner the West Coast Trades Academy, who provided the funding to develop the Employability & Life Skills Programme to meet a need in their community, working with rangatahi of various disabilities and their carers to provide experiences in the outdoors to help improve their confidence and independence.

“It was truly heart-warming to see participants and carers respond to the activities our instructors were running and the chance to try new things – they just loved it!”
(Lacey, Videographer)

Realising the potential to have a lasting impact on participants and their whānau, with early programmes on the West Coast very successful, a special project was funded thanks to Sport New Zealand, who also identified the need within the active recreation sector to better cater for the needs of the disability community. We were thankful to connect with Mitch from the Halberg Foundation, who was able to provide training, expertise, and connections to the disability community.

‘It’s about noticing. Once you change your mind-set to start noticing elements of accessibility, you can’t not notice them. We want the organisation we engage with to be empowered to notice these things for themselves and make those quick and easy changes that will make a big difference.’ Mitchell Rhodes, Advisor at Halberg Foundation

Further training support came from Jezza from Making Trax, himself in a wheelchair, to look at adapting our equipment and what we did to make the experience for participants a good one. His honesty, experience and enthusiasm was hugely valued by our team.

We borrowed equipment, adapted how games were played, built a new ramp, thought about the language we used, with a myriad of other tweaks, to create a safe and supportive environment for the participants. We then invited a group of young people on site for an overnight camping experience. For many of the children and young people who attended, the day programmes and overnight camp offered the chance to try activities for the first time, visit new places in the Nelson/Tasman region, and for some, have their first ever experience in a tent!

‘Having these experiences for our kids is huge. Our kids miss out on so much, they want to be involved, the want to be in the outdoors. They want to be doing what every other child their age is doing. Any support, big or little, makes such a difference in the lives of our children!’ – Parent on the inclusive camp.

One of the real highlights of the project for us so far was to see one of the participants from the camp return to Whenua Iti on his school camp, just a few weeks later. Knowing that we could support him to attend with his peers, and not miss out, was the whole point.

We still have a way to go to improve accessibility across all aspects of our organisation, but we definitely feel we’re heading in the right direction and know how to access the right support. We will continue working with Halberg Foundation to monitor and evaluate the impact of this programme and look at how we can grow opportunities at WIO.

We believe that working in partnership with Sport New Zealand and the Halberg Foundation strengthened the knowledge, commitment and ultimately the outcomes of the project.

‘There were so many people involved to make this project happen! Sport New Zealand, Halberg Foundation, Jezza at Making Trax, Kaiteriteri Recreation Reserve, Moana SUP, the parents, support staff, advisors, teachers, CCS Disability Action, Nayland College, West Coast Trades Academy, Tasman District Council and Grey High who supported the mahi on the West Coast and of course our own team who were so supportive. We’re grateful to everyone.’ – Nettie Stow, Partnership and Funding Manager at Whenua Iti Outdoors.

Ngā mihi to the tamariki, rangatahi and whānau within the disability community who have contributed to this project.

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